Those familiar with this blog will know that in the spring I started writing a novel about a woman’s relationship with her father as he loses his memory. I made good progress over the summer, but’s been a pretty difficult time keeping it up over the last few weeks, as the academic side of my life has been squeezing out the creative side. I’ve got a lot more teaching than I had last year, and there have also been a couple of deadlines for articles I’ve been writing. Keeping the novel going has been a struggle. I had to drop my weekly target from 3000 words to 1000, and last week I didn’t even manage that. (And it’s not only novel-writing that has suffered. You may have noticed that blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground lately.)
However, this week has been a lot easier, and I’ve finally been able to get back to the novel in earnest. I’m now approaching both the 50,000 word mark and the end of the main story – though I’ve realised it needs a sub-plot and have come up with an idea for one (perhaps my enforced break from it helped me to look at it with a fresher eye?). So there’s a lot more writing and editing still to be done. Still, I’m feeling reassured, having got back into it, that it’s going in the right direction and that the end is, if not exactly in sight, then at least not too far beyond the horizon.
Anyway, I guess I should leave you with a little excerpt from the current draft. Herbert has recently moved into a nursing home. His dementia has robbed him of his more recent long-term memories and taken him back to the 1940’s, when he was a tail gunner in RAF bombers. In this passage he is struggling to make sense of his surroundings as he is visited by his daughter, whom he no longer recognises ….
This isn’t such a bad place to be a prisoner. The guards are polite, most of the time, and they speak excellent English. Quite a lot of them are women; I suppose the men have all been sent to the front. They feed us well enough, and there’s a certain amount of freedom to move around.
It’s comfortable here, I have to admit. Probably too comfortable. Most people just seem to lie down and accept it. They sit around in their chairs and give up, waiting for the end of the war. But not me. A prison is still a prison, however cozy it might seem. And it’s my duty to escape. It’s everyone’s duty; we didn’t join up to mooch around here all day. We should be finding our way back to Blighty so we can fight again. “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” I sometimes tell them.
I’m always on the lookout for opportunities, for weak points in the perimeter. But however soft the guards might seem, all friendly and nice as pie, they’re only lulling us into a false sense of security. If you get too near the door, you soon find a uniformed guard in front of you saying “You don’t want to go that way, Herbert”.
Oh yes I bloody do. And if I ever got half a chance, I’d be out of that door before you could say Jack Robinson. God knows what is out there once you get through: machine gun posts, guard dogs, all sorts of dangers, I shouldn’t wonder. But I don’t care. When the time comes, I’ll take my chances. If they shoot me, so be it. Better than a long, lingering death in here. And who knows how long this cushy prison regime is going to last? Once the Germans start running out of food, they’re not going to waste what they’ve got left on us, are they? I expect the SS will be coming in to finish us off, if we’re lucky. Or maybe they’ll just let us starve to death.
There’s a woman here asking me questions. Trouser suit, short blonde hair – Nordic, like – it’s a dead giveaway. I bet she’s a guard – though she doesn’t dress like the others – here to spy on us, find out what we’re up to. Or worse, she could be Gestapo. All the more reason not to give anything away. You’re not going to get any joy out of me, Helga. Go away and interrogate someone else.